Lena Herzog Last Whispers
Oratorio for Vanishing Voices
Collapsing Universes & a Falling Tree

[Film / Music]

Our linguistic diversity is fading, the dynamic force of transmission has dwindled, and dominant languages have gained even more ground. Every week one language is lost to the world. Of the 7000 languages known to experts today, half will be lost to mankind before the end of the century. Lena Herzog focused on the subject for Last Whispers, an "immersive oratorio" for a high-tech audio and video installation.

How can a human community survive the loss of its own means of communication which is also the means of self-knowledge? How is it possible to accept the loss of this part of the self, a part inherited by every individual and which, through the dense layers of eras and civilization, has given meaning to the world where humans have settled? It was no doubt too late when the United Nations, through UNESCO, acclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Extinction of languages is occurring on a massive scale, and is manifested only through silence. The disaster has haunted the work of Lena Herzog.
In Last Whispers we hear the final murmurs of these languages swept away by human excess and folly. Lena Herzog has us listen to them: Wanano spoken by native peoples of Brazil and Colombia, Ayoreo spoken by the few remaining tribes in forestland in Paraguay, Bathari in Oman, and Tosu, a Tibeto-Burman language from Sichuan. Her exploration of the archives of the Endangered Languages Documentation Program at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) produced recordings which she has developed as direct testimony from the human race when still endowed with a multitude of rich and varied forms of expression. The languages have been transposed and transformed to fashion a fascinating audio sequence. Black and white footage comprises the video side of a dialogue conducted with the research recordings, processed for 8.1 spatial sound and heard via binaural headphones, taking the audience into the ontological depths of language forms that endowed meaning on human ventures. Lena Herzog’s visionary concern makes the impending end of such worlds a tangible prospect, in a bid to avert it.
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The sound and video systems are adjusted for each session to provide an individual experience, listening to the sound via binaural headphones (for the Théâtre de la Ville in the small Espace Cardin auditorium) and in a number of schools in Paris and the Greater Paris region.
The sessions (running for approximately two hours) include a brief introduction, the screening of Last Whispers, then a discussion with the audience led by a moderator.
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Duration: 45 min.